Tsehaye and Arba Minch            

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The Wivenhoe Encyclopedia

Jan le FevreThis is the 'story' which Janita Le Fevre told Dilly Meyer in 2002 that sparked an interest by Wivenhoe in a person called Tsehaye in a town in Ethiopia called Arba Minch.   

Sunshine in Arba Minch

A monstrous, white, 4+4, races through the town on this sunny morning in November 2002 while I tuck into my favourite breakfast ‘full,’ a spicy bean stew, at the best café in town, unappetizingly, called ‘Sweat.’

The UN car passes through the town daily but the occupants never stop.

Awoman I know is now in charge of the UN project to help street children. She’s held the job for a year. Nothing has been done. (Street boys helped me do a survey of 100 children’s hopes, fears, life and reasons for homelessness, for Plan International, and they said I was the first person to show interest in them.)

In the most disease-ridden area where families live in sheds, which reminds me of Mary and Joseph's shelter in Bethlehem, of Christmas cards; near a crumbling Dickensian Police station, where huge ledgers are still piled in dusty stacks to keep account of crime; there is a modest compound, buzzing with life, love and laughter. It’s Tsehaye’s home. Her name means Sunshine and she comes from a king's family in the mountains where the hut is fenced by huge elephants trunks and leopard skins cover his throne: a rickety wooden chair. Tsehaye has 72 siblings as her father had 15 wives. The relatives kiss her feet when they visit Arba Minch as she is the eldest.

TsehayeTsehaye is in her forties with wild hair held in bright scarves. She is a formidable woman ready with a radiant smile for her friends. Her home is made of the usual rough wood; no neat, pine planking in Ethiopia but hard thorn wood poles nailed into walls. Mud covers the poles so like our medieval wattle and daub. Inside USAID bags are pinned to the ceiling and bits of material to her walls. Her two teenage daughters are beauties who always have a baby or two giggling in their arms when they are not at school or cooking on open fires in their 30 feet square compound.

Tsehaye believes in education. She marches regularly to the local schools to check that her children are well behaved and attending. The teachers think she is an angel. And so do I.

The children number 32 orphans from newly born to 20 year old street boys. Tsehaye spends her days defending her boys and girls, if she feels there has been an injustice. For example is when a policeman beat a boy for sleeping in a doorway. She screamed so much in the Police Station that the man was suspended for 3 months without pay: a real hardship and punishment. And now the Chief of Police is one of her many admirers and friends.

But she’s no soft touch as her raised voice daily chastises boys for swearing, drinking or gambling, the sad reality of life on the streets everywhere in the world.

Today a tiny girl in a ‘polly-long frock’ which is the uniform drabness of poverty, is stomping around the empty compound, marching and skipping to her inner music of contentment. She has come home after weeks in hospital with Tsehaye as her daily visitor and only friend in the world.

In rush two boys from school dumping their books in the shed where all the kids sleep and play.

The tiny girl leans against the bamboo wall of the shed and giggles uncontrollably at the secrets the boys whisper to her through the wall: they are all orphans and ‘one family.’

Two other boys have swept the dirt compound like diligent housewives because cleanliness is essential in tropical Ethiopia to stop mosquitoes, to spot any snakes quickly and domestic pride. Now they climb over a small fence into their vegetable kingdom: one metre square at the corner of the compound, and Tsehaye says they are loving gardeners. For an hour they tend their plants, a rare treat for these street boys who never have anything belonging to them. Now the tiny girl walks studiously back and forth carrying her tin pot full of water to help her ‘brothers’

Tsehaye’s compound is the quarter the size of mine with a large shed which sleeps all the children including her own. At night on straw matting with no covers or pillows the children giggle and tease each other. Big boys hug little ones whose real past sometimes catches up with them in nightmare dreams. Its all arms and legs and I spent many a night surrounded by this squirming mess of humanity waking with kids squashing all over me.

Her own sons are now in their twenties and are called ‘Father’ by all the children. This is their status. They have forgone university places. Their mother needs their practical help washing, feeding and disciplining her orphans, and their money from photography and tourism is an essential part of her budget. Even street boys who make pennies doing jobs around the town put their money in a pot each day to help her buy food, clothes and too often life saving medicines.

On some magic evenings Tsehaye gathers her own children and they pray together: she is a fervent Protestant. She has never forgiven herself as twelve years ago she sent her boys onto the streets to fend for themselves, like millions of other parents in our poor world who have no choice. Her husband had been killed in one of the endless wars with Eritrea and she was destitute. She could only feed and protect her daughters.

She needn’t have worried, as her two ‘likely lads’ at eight and ten years old used all their wits and soon made many opportunities to make a living for bread each day. The horrors they experienced are now part of their history…but like all street boys they had fun on the way too.

All her family understand her guilt and have great love for the new life they now all lead caring for the street children of Arba Minch.

Every house in Ethiopia has family orphans with them. Tsehaye is the sunshine for all those youngsters with no families.  

Janita Le Fevre
2004

Contact Janita to help raise money, or for more information, then e-mail: 

Note: Charity Concert for Tsehaye's Orphanage in Ethiopia on Saturday 29th November 2008. At The Congregational Hall, organised by Brian Ford and friends. 7.30pm
Above: Tsehaye's home

Below:  Cooking in the Kitchen

Above: Tsehaye

Below: Orphan's

Below:  Janita Le Fevre

Left:  Boys eating in the home

 

Last updated:
05 January 2015

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